By Jennifer A. Infantas
After only a few short minutes of President Trump’s inauguration, the White House was beginning to communicate Mr. Trump’s new energy policies, which aim to stimulate the U.S. economy and ensure national security all while supposedly protecting the environment and public health of U.S. citizens. The issue with this is how Trump’s White House aims to accomplish these goals by promoting a renassaince of the fossil fuel industry in an effort to achieve energy independence. Trump wants to do this by moving away from Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), reviving America’s coal industry, and committing to eliminate environmentaly friendly energy policies – which he deems harmful and uncessary – such as the Climate Action Plan, the Clean Power Plan and Waters of the U.S. rule.
Making matters worse, Republicans in Congress declared their desire to dismantle environmental regulations promoted by the Obama administration. How is it possible or even responsible for a world leader to treat environmental rules as unnecessary burdens? Environmental legislation is not only important but absolutely necessary.
The first reason why environmental laws are essential is that energy landscape in 2050 will be completely different from how it looks today. An imminent demand of oil outstripping supply worldwide will push the adjustment of the oil market. According to the U. S. Energy Information Administration, energy generation from renewable sources will increase around four to five times current production levels, energy systems will remain complex and the continued gradual decarbonization of the fuel mix is only a part of the global energy transition.
But this energy transition has a significant challenge: namely, the world must somehow supply the increasing world’s demand for energy while also reducing carbon emissions. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would be possible if global agreements between producer and consumer countries are reached and the implementation of cost-efficient market instruments or technological innovation, such as carbon capture, are further introduced.
The challenge lies in changing consumer behavior because changing consumption habits can be an effective way to propel the decarbonization of energy. How could we support the alteration of consumer behavior? This is where public policies have an important role, working in synergy with carbon fuels taxation and incentives for the use of renewable energy. Indeed, all of them are allies to encourage the push to a global energy transition.
Secondly, in the near future, energy policies and a healthy amount of regulation are imperative for the sector and for the health and safety of our environment and the communities which support energy production. Efforts to tackle climate change will negatively affect the revenue generating potential for many extractive resources, which is probably the main reason why some factions of the current U.S. government do not support enacting energy policies which would strictly regulate emissions standards for private sector activity.
Regarding how enacting energy policies and environmental legislation in the U.S. affect the economic outcomes of the fossil fuel industry, certainly there is evidence to suggest that strengthening environmental regulations deteriorates business competitiviness. As The London School Economics and the Global Green Growth Institute cites, “environmental regulations can reduce employment and productivity.” Moreover, certain climate regulations and environmental measures could mean higher energy bills paid by all Americans, at least during the transitory period when the economy moves away from polluting activities and towards cleaner production. So, how would we make sure these people can get behind environmental legislation? The costs of environmental regulations need to be weighed up against the benefits they provide and which justify those regulations. This is a significant challenge that many governments, including the U.S. Government, must face globally because today’s climate regulations are not an option, but a necessity.
Trump’s energy plan seeks to rescind regualtions such as the Stream Protection Rule which prohibits coal mining companies from implementing any activity that might permanently pollute sources of drinking water. This Obama era policy not only aims to safeguard American citizens’ public health, but also the environmental integrity of these resource rich regions. Undermining such a policy that would damage the nation’s environment and public health in the long run in order to obtain economic gains in the short or medium term seems to defy logic. Yet, Trump’s policy team appears ready to do just that.
Thirdly, energy policies and environmental rules are necessary because energy markets require investments that accompany stable regulatory frameworks from governments worldwide. Energy policies are indispensable to ensure an optimal supervisory function of governments, and because of this, it is crucial to find a balance between local and global interests to provide adequate incentives for carbon dioxide reduction and the use of clean energy.
In the thinking of Trump’s administration, burdensome climate regulations must be eliminated from the American energy industry. An example, is the social cost of carbon, which underpins an average of 79 climate rules. The social cost of carbon estimates to assess the economic benefits of rulemakings that reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and according to this, agencies must justify proposed regulations by assessing their economic and social cost and benefits.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2016 registered the largest annual decline of the coal industry in the U.S. in terms of both tons and percentage of coal, since 1949. President Trump rallies for the coal industry in the U.S. and blames its decline on “burdensome regulations” designed to protect public health, lower the cost of natural gas and renewable energy options. But while the decline in coal represents a risk to investors, it is necessary.
Compared to all other fossil fuel industries, the coal is the most harmful source of energy to human health and, per Physicians for Social Responsibility, coal’s combustion contributes to four of the five causes of death in the U.S. and fine particulates from coal-fired power plants in the U.S. kills 7,500 people each year. Therefore, it is most likely that Trump would need to keep some “burdensome regulations” if the intention is to ensure and protect the health of American citizens.
The U.S. government plays a crucial role in determining what are the rules for companies and citizens and establishing legislative frameworks for markets according to environmental needs.
So where do we go from here? Effectively, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution to deal with the energy and climate challenges that confront us. However, every effort made by local, national, and global governments to find a balance between economic growth and environmental protection represents an indispensable action. Energy and environmental legislation must be strengthened in the U.S. and not eliminated because they are considered burdensome and expensive for the industry. Environmental groups, organizations, and the civil society must fervently confront the White House’s campaign to erode environmental regulations. If President Trump’s anti-environmental campaign comes to fruition, the long term health of the U.S. citizens and the environment they live in nation will likely be at peril. Moreover, any attempt to actually meet the climate change goals established at COP21 will undoubtedly be impossible with the leadership and commitement of the U.S. government, making these current enviromnetal laws all the more important. In other words.The elimination of these energy regulations will be nothing short of a tragedy.
Jennifer is a specialist on public policies, urban planning and public-private partnerships. She has been working for the Peruvian government for the last 8 years, at both the local and national level. She is currently a M.S. Candidate in Global Affair at NYU.